Improving Attachment in Parent/Child Relationships

Written by: Allison Bates, M.S.
Improving Attachment in Parent/Child Relationships

Attachment between a child and parent creates the roadmap of how a child interacts with others and themselves, often for the rest of their lives. If a child is securely attached to a caregiver, they are more likely to have higher self-esteem, exhibit fewer behavioral concerns, have more emotional and peer competence, and have less likelihood of developing physical and mental health concerns.

The optimal caregiver for secure attachment is sensitive to their child’s needs, accessible to the child when they need support, and responsive and nurturing. This caregiver is often a mother presence but can be any adult who is emotionally available and reliable. As building strong, healthy attachment is the best-case scenario, it is far from easy. There are many obstacles to attaching securely with a child (mental health concerns, health issues, time constraints, other responsibilities); however, attachment can be recovered with intentionality and consistency. Connecting with a child through eye contact, hugs, and showing up physically and emotionally can come from any adult in their life and teach a child that they are worthy of love and respect.

Validating a child can be incredibly helpful in bonding. This can be done by working to listen to your child when they communicate with you. As frustrating as it can be to listen to a child ramble about a topic for several minutes, it teaches them that what they have to offer is important to you. It is also important to support their need for individualization. Allowing your child to problem solve on their own, play independently, and make some of their own choices sets them up to trust that they are capable of hard things.

Children also crave reassurance to learn what is appropriate and develop a sense of self pride. You can foster this by praising and recognizing them when you notice them accomplishing tasks or doing something well. Reassurance can also look like repairing communication breaks and apologizing. It can be difficult for some adults to apologize to children, but it is the best way for them to understand that others have feelings, make mistakes, and it models how to move forward in relationships in a healthy way.

Encouraging a child is another way to help build a secure attachment. This can look like comforting them when they are upset, helping them solve problems when they get stuck, and giving them positive attention. Since we, as adults, are often multitasking and keeping track of various responsibilities, our brains tend to focus on the negative aspects of life (the problems that need solving) and we forget to notice the positive milestones a child is accomplishing. However, it is incredibly beneficial to a developing mind to be reminded that they are loved and are doing well.

Additionally, TheraPlay can be incredibly helpful to build attachment between caregiver and child with various activities that help create and foster connection. For more parent coaching, Fillial Therapy is also shown to have attachment results, as it looks at the relationship as the client as opposed to the parent or child.